Environment V. Development

Author: Garima Singh, Research Associate

“By destroying nature, environment, man has committed matricide, having in a way killed mother earth. Technological excellence, growth of industries economical gains have led to depletion of natural resources irreversibly, indifference to the grave consequences, lack of concern and foresight have contributed in large measures to the alarming position ((TN Godarvarman Thirumalpad v. Union of India [2002] 10 SCC 606 at p 613)).

– Justice Arijit Pasayat

Subsistence and development are both permanent concerns of humankind.  Ecological systems provide the material foundation for human subsistence and development.  The modern industrial revolution has brought increased prosperity to the world, but it has also threatened — and in some cases destroyed — ecological systems.  At present, air, water, soil and species on the Earth have been polluted to a dangerous extent- Human society- thus faces the most severe environmental crisis in history. The environmental- development dilemma is no longer a problem now, as sustainable development has grown into a pragmatic concept. However the development projects like Narmada and Tehri Dam project have been praised as well as criticized. There has been indiscriminate mining of useful micro-organisms by various developed countries from the sea beds which are used to make certain life saving drugs. But think what depletion of these micro- organisms will lead to? It will disturb the environment balance. These micro-organisms helps in keeping the water clean, thereby making it fit for other aquatic animals to survive. If there are no useful micro- organism there would be no life in sea.


“The term environment can describe a limited area, the entire planet or even include a part of outer space that surrounds the earth”

From the time human gained consciousness and started to harness potential trapped in the environment, it has led to evolution. Despite evolution and the sophistical stage we have reached, humans have the same basic needs, but have only elevated to more sophisticated forms. Human being must ensure their own survival by maintaining peace in the world and also by having access to basic necessities.

The 1992 declaration of Rio de Janeiro on Environment & development proclaimed that development must be sustainable, which means it shall not exhaust the earth’s natural resources. The political declaration adopted in 2002 by the world summit on sustainable development (WSSD) stressed on Universal character of the obligation of sustainable development.


It is imperative here to understand the meaning of development. One might argue that it depends entirely on the viewpoint one takes, which needless to say, is conditioned and supported by one’s social, political and cultural background and imperatives. The meaning attributed to “development” may range from “economic growth”, to “cultural, political growth”, to “the degree of comprehensive freedom achieved within an individual to develop space in dimensions social, cultural, political, economic and spiritual”.

To get a grasp of the meaning attributed to “development” by the Declaration on the Right to development, the preamble to the declaration lays down:

 “Development is a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting there from.”

Development must, however be sustainable, which means that resources of the planet are used and managed so that they will be sufficient for ensuring satisfaction of the present as well as future generations. This kind of concept is called ‘Sustainable Development’, i.e. the co- relation of right to development and right to clean environment. Sustainable development as referred to by the World Commission on Environment and Development ((WCED (World commission on Environment and Development), (Brundtland  Report) ‘Our common future’, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989.))involves the three conceptual elements:

  1. Integration of environment and economic concerns
  2. Appraisal of Development in a proper perspective
  3. A commitment to equity.

Recent conventions on Environment and Sustainable Development: Some of them are as follows:

  1. United Nations World Summit held in September 2005- the summit discussed progress forwards of the Millennium Development Goals and a reform of the UN.
  2. The Kyoto Protocol on 16th February 2005: under the protocol industrialized countries are legally bound to reduce their combined emission of six major greenhouse gases.
  3. United nations climate change Conference 2005: under this most of the countries are bound by specific and legally finding emission reduction targets following this conference convention on climate change.
  4. Convention on climate change adopted on Feb 2005
  5. United nations climate change conference (Bali 2007): developed countries must, as per Bali plan adopt “measurable, reportable and verifiable emission limits and reductions,” while developing countries can emphasize mitigation rather than emission reduction.
  6. Ecology Summit 2008
  7. Earth Summit III also known as United Nations convention on Sustainable development, 2012.

Situation in India

India is developing fast. In spite of the fact that the industry in India is required and it has been providing employment, revenue to the Government and getting    good foreign exchange in case of exports, preference is to be given to save environment. It must  realized that  though the environmental degradation are   the inevitable consequences of industrial development in our country, but at the same time the quality of environment cannot be permitted to be damaged by polluting the air, water and land to such an extent that it becomes a health hazard.


The Judiciary in India has been taking steps for directing state agencies, to strictly adhere to the legislations in protecting the environment and arresting the various manmade disasters.  The Judiciary has taken such steps especially, because of the various public interest litigations arisen out of manmade disasters such as Bhopal Gas tragedy etc. It was held in MC Mehta Vs Union of India and others, ((WP No:13029 of 1985, ordered by the Supreme Court of India in April 2002))that one of the principles underlying environmental law is sustainable development. This principle requires development to take place which ecologically sustainable.

It was further held that there are two essential features of sustainable development such as precautionary principle and polluter pays principle.

The precautionary principle: It was elucidated by the Supreme Court in Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum Vs Union of India and other (1996)   states that the state government and its agencies must anticipate, prevent, attack the causes of  environmental degradation.. States should not take up any activity and measure which is not environment friendly.

Polluter Pays principle: This for the first time was evolved by the Organization for economic co-operation and development (OECD). The principle basically means that the industrialist is responsible for pollution caused and for cost of preventing such damages (i.e. expenses for its repair).


In the past century, environmental issues have become interestingly global in scale. Management solution often urges us to ‘think globally and act locally’ based on the premise that global problems reflect the collective consequences of local actions. So we should adopt this strategy because environment degradation is a global problem. For the sake of saving environment, we cannot stop all the development activities because development is also necessary for economies to sustain in this competitive world.

 I would like to wrap up the article by quoting few lines by Fidel Castro-

“The solution cannot be that which bans the development of those who need it the most; the fact is that everything that contributes to underdevelopment and poverty is an open violation of ecology”